Archaeological Note: Skeletal material recovered from Tyning`s

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Archaeological Note: Skeletal material recovered from Tyning`s
Proc. Univ. Bristol Spelaeol. Soc., 2004, 23 (2), 135-140
ARCHAEOLOGICAL NOTE:
SKELETAL MATERIAL RECOVERED FROM
TYNING’S GREAT SWALLET,
CHARTERHOUSE-ON-MENDIP,
SOMERSET
by
G.J. MULLAN AND A. BOYCOTT
ABSTRACT
A cave dig in Tyning’s Great Swallet has recovered a quantity of human and animal bone and a single flint
tool. These appear to be late Neolithic in age, although the nature of the dig and slumping of the deposit have prevented
detailed interpretation.
INTRODUCTION
Tyning’s Great Swallet (NGR ST 47655610) is a doline just to the south of the
entrances of G.B. Cavern and Charterhouse Cave. It has been interpreted as the sink for a
invasion vadose cave, now fossilised, which is likely to intercept the continuation of Charterhouse Cave between that cave’s current terminal choke and its junction with G.B. Cavern
somewhere beneath the terminal boulder choke of the latter (Smart et al, 1984).
The site was first investigated by the Society in the 1920s and again in the early 1950s
at which time the eastern section of cave passage (see Figure 2) was opened up. Digging here
was abandoned when the passage closed down to a narrow impassable crack. This point was at
the bottom of the slope below the entrance. The current dig, from the western entrance, was
begun in January 1985 and has continued sporadically since then. During the spring and
summer of 2004, a significant amount of progress was made and in the course of this a quantity
of skeletal material was recovered from within the fill.
Digging in the swallet has shown that it appears to be a large shaft, infilled from
above, which the diggers have followed down close to its southern wall. Figure 1 gives a
somewhat schematic cross section of the shaft and Figure 2 shows the plan form of the cave. It
would seem to be similar in formation to the entrance shaft of Charterhouse Warren Farm
Swallet (Levitan et al. 1988), but see below for a discussion of this similarity.
The material so far recovered has been found at approximate depths of 10 m to 30 m
within a fill of limestone clasts, mud and some sandstone cobbles.
Human remains:
The human material is very incomplete though all parts of the body seem to be represented.
There are probably three individuals present.
y
10 skull fragments including parts of right temporal bone, occipital, parietal, and frontal
bones and palate
136
G.J. MULLAN AND A. BOYCOTT
y
Tooth, upper left canine
y
Left clavicle
y
?Left humerus head very eroded
y
Right humerus fragment including part of olecranon fossa
y
Right radius, distal half, missing styloid, adult size
y
Right radius, distal third, medium
y
Right radius, distal half, small
y
Left ulna, proximal half, missing joint surfaces
y
Left trapezium
y
2 proximal hand phalanges very slender ? female
y
?Central fragment of rib
y
Lumbar vertebra, possibly L1, marked osteoarthritis
y
Left femoral head
y
?Patella very eroded
y
Left talus (astragalus) (approx foot size UK 7-8)
y
Great toe phalange
Artefacts:
One artefact has been recovered; a flint thumb scraper which has been identified as
probably late Neolithic in age. The only other artefact discovered in the cave was a screw top
from a beer bottle labelled Ashton Gate Brewery Ltd which has been identified as dating no
later than 1924. This was discovered close to the surface shortly after digging operations
commenced and it is possible that it was left by early UBSS members.
Faunal remains:
The faunal material is listed below. Faunal remains are greater in quantity than the
human ones, the majority are of bovids. A full catalogue is available in the Society’s Museum.
The shaft contains no animals which would be inconsistent with a late Neolithic date, as
indicated by the flint.
y
Bovid: (Domestic): Numerous teeth, rib & vertebral fragments, metatarsals, horn core
y
Bovid: (Bos primigenius): Large Atlas vertebra
y
Pig: Teeth, Tibia, proximal end?
SKELETAL MATERIAL FROM TYNING’S GREAT SWALLET
y
Sheep: Teeth
y
Horse: Teeth
y
Red Deer: Teeth
y
Canid: Skull fragment, teeth and lower jaw
y
Small rodent or rabbit: Tibia, Scapula, Vertebra, Left lower jaw
y
Bat: (?recent, seen but lost in spoil)
Figure 1. Schematic cross-section through Tynings Great Swallet.
137
138
G.J. MULLAN AND A. BOYCOTT
Figure 2. Plan Survey of Tynings Great Swallet.
SKELETAL MATERIAL FROM TYNING’S GREAT SWALLET
139
DISCUSSION
This cave has not been systematically excavated as an archaeological site and no
proper stratigraphic record has been made. That and the paucity of artefacts make it very difficult to determine both what the original depositional context (or contexts) and the date of
deposition may have been. However, the associated faunal material and the single flint find
suggest that a date at the end of the Neolithic is probable.
One thing that can be stated with certainty is that neither the human nor the animal
material arrived at the site of their deposition by the same route that the explorers took, as our
access shaft has required enlargement to make it passable. Their position is at the edge of deep
shaft, up to 10 m by 10 m across. All the finds have come from a minimum of 15 m below the
cave entrance, 20 m below the lip of the depression. The find might be interpreted in this way:
In late Neolithic times the site was an open shaft, possibly a collapse doline of up to 30 m
depth, with a floor of stones and soil. The human and faunal remains were deposited by an
unknown process at this time and the shaft was filled to within 5 m of the surface over time.
Whether this process was natural or due to human activity cannot be judged. Subsequent to the
deposition, the shaft fill has been undermined and partially washed out by the Charterhouse
Cave stream which passes beneath. This has caused the finds to have probably been scattered
through a larger area than that in which they were originally deposited. It also, however,
increases the difficulties of interpretation.
The closest local parallels would seem to be with the Late Neolithic horizon at
Charterhouse Warren Farm Swallet (Levitan, et al. 1988) and the Early Bronze Age deposit at
Brimble Pit Swallet (Lewis, 2000). Both of these have been interpreted as being intentional
deposits. It may be that a more complete excavation of the Great Swallet would cast more light
on these matters but this would be a significant undertaking.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
We are grateful to Dr. Roger Jacobi of the British Museum for assistance in the identification of the faunal material and to the Charterhouse Caving Company Ltd for permission to
excavate in the swallet.
REFERENCES
Levitan, B., Audsley, A., Hawkes, C., Moody, A., Moody, P., Smart, P. and Thomas, J. 1988.
Charterhouse Warren Farm Swallet, Mendip, Somerset. Proceedings of the University
of Bristol Spelaeological Society. 18. 2. pp.171-239.
Lewis, J. 2000. Upwards at 45 degrees: the use of vertical caves during the Neolithic and Early
Bronze Age on Mendip, Somerset. Capra 2 available at http://www.shef.ac.uk/~capra/2/upwards.html
Smart P.L., Moody P.D., Moody A.A.D. and Chapman P.R.J. 1984. Charterhouse Cave Exploration, geomorphology and fauna. Proceedings of the University of Bristol
Spelaeological Society. 17. 1. pp.5-27.
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G.J. MULLAN AND A. BOYCOTT
APPENDIX
HUMAN BONE FROM CHARTERHOUSE CAVE
In the course of this work Charterhouse cave was visited in order to survey the terminal boulder ruckle dig to see how it relates to the position of the Great Swallet. During the
course of this visit one piece of bone, subsequently tentatively identified as the distal half of a
human right tibia, was recovered. It was found at the end of the streamway, just at the start of
the terminal boulder choke. It is probably not associated with the Great Swallet deposits but is
reported here for completeness.
G.J. Mullan
38, Delvin Road,
Westbury on Trym,
Bristol BS10 5EJ.
[email protected]
Dr A. Boycott
14, Walton Rise,
Westbury on Trym,
Bristol BS9 3EW
[email protected]

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